Longer meal duration increases healthy eating in children. An experimental study

  • M. Dallacker
  • J. Mata
  • R. Hertwig


Purpose: Family meal frequency has been shown to be associated with better diet quality and lower body weight in children. But what aspects of family meals are healthy for children? Several cross-sectional studies show that longer family meal duration is associated with better nutritional health. Importantly, randomized control trials on family meal duration have not been conducted. This study, for the first time, took an experimental approach to investigate the causal relationship between meal duration and children’s nutritional health. Methods: A within-subject experiment with 40 parent-child pairs was conducted. In the control condition parent-child pairs have as much time as usual, in the experimental condition they have 50% longer than usual. The laboratory family dinners were video taped. Food consumption was analyzed and mealtime interactions were coded using the Action, Behavior Control, Communication (ABC) mealtime coding scheme. Results: Results indicate a higher fruit and vegetables intake (p=.03) and a lower sweet dessert intake (p=.12) in the longer meal duration condition compared to the usual meal duration condition. No differences were found in the absolute intake of other food items such as bread, cheese or cold meat (p=0.56). Conclusion: These results suggest that taking more time to eat together as a family may be one lever to improve children’s nutritional health.
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